Ex-Gay? Is That Even a Thing? An Interview with Steve Gershom (part two)

[This is the second part of my interview with Steve Gershom. I posted the first half yesterday. Gershom has also written a four-part series about orientation change on his own blog, SteveGershom.com.]

Have you had any bad experiences with Christian organizations who try to bully or shame you into becoming heterosexual?

I know those things exist, but I’ve never seen them. Any organization I’ve come up against, there’s always been some good and some bad.

You spoke about “strands of homoeroticism” that run through most people, but also of the pathologies that often go along with homosexuality. So if you do see your homosexuality as a problem that needs fixing, what is the best way to approach it? Head-on, or through some more indirect approach to emotional health?

That very much depends on who you talk to. To my mind, there’s some parts of the various methods of reorientation therapy which I think are a great idea.

Like what?

Like, some of the things they want to help men achieve are things that would be good for any man, straight or gay. Things like realizing that every human being has some amount of brokenness or twistedness relating to their own and other genders. It’s just as pathological for a straight guy to be working out at the gym for 16 hours a week and sleeping with three women at a time, because he has messed up idea of what masculinity and femininity are.

The good parts of the “ex-gay” movement are parts that make people address their brokenness in the realm of gender. Their real brokenness.

I went on a retreat which is controversial, a “Journey into Manhood” weekend. It’s been used as an example of the worst things about ex-gay world. And there were some friggin’ creepy things about it!

Like what?

Like way the men who had been in the program treated each other: constant back massages, syrupy voices, stuff that dudes don’t do. Supposedly it was to teach men to be men, to get in touch with the masculinity that was always there. A lot of it was that, but a lot of it was: Well, we’re not going to have sex, but let’s do everything else, and call it “authentic mind-heart connection.”

But some of the good thing were learning some of the patterns that existed in my own ways of interacting with men, and recognizing some of the assumptions I unconsciously thought men were thinking about me. Learning to realize when a past trauma is still affecting your patterns of relating to other people. Those thing were legitimately dealt with in that weekend.

So, would you recommend an experience like this, with the good and the bad parts?

If you go in thinking, “I’ll swallow this thing whole!” — of course you’re going to get messed up. You have to discern whether you’re psychologically healthy enough to tell the difference between the good and the bad parts. There are people who are not in a psychological state to be ready for that kind of discernment.

I would say it’s probably always a mistake to try to directly pursue heterosexuality. But I don’t see anything wrong with trying to locate where you wounds are, and seeking healing for them. You may or may not hold out hope that as you heal, you might get “less gay.” I still recommend both the book, Growth Into Manhood, and the weekend, with the good and the bad, and if you’re able to discern the difference, then do so. The guy who wrote the First Things column you mentioned picked out the gross, bad things, highlighted them, and took them out of context.

Say you were talking to someone who’s just admitted to himself that he’s gay, and wants to try to change his orientation. What advice would you give to him?

First, find at least one person you can tell, and can talk to as regularly as possible. This is the most frustrating thing: someone will write to me, and say, “Help, I’m miserable!” So I ask if he’s told anyone he’s gay, and he says that nobody can know. But there’s nothing anyone can do unless they open up to one person. Ideally, someone who has a solid orthodox head on their shoulders, plus great empathy and patience. Those people aren’t a dime a dozen! What I always tell people is, if they’re Catholic, start by mentioning it in the confession, and see if the priest is receptive to meeting outside the confessional to talk about it.

I have also been helped by a therapist who saw no problem with gay relationships, but I made it clear that I did, and she respected that. Some people are dishonest, and will try to convince you that it’s really okay. That happened to me: someone said she respected my beliefs, but then she tried to manipulate me into a relationship with a friend of hers.

So, see if you can find a therapist, see if there’s a female friend you can talk to — because with women, there’s a lot less fear of judgment. It’s easier to tell a woman.  But it’s more healing to tell another man, because it helps to deflate this overblown fear of rejection. On the other hand, you do read horrible news stories of guys who did tell other guys, and the things they did to him. So you have to be careful! And, you know, sometimes it helps to send out feelers: see how they talk about homosexuals when it comes up; see if they’re bigoted.

I was thinking about the Church’s teaching on sterilization. Getting sterilized reflects a disordered view about sexuality. But if you do get sterilized and then repent, you are not required to get surgery to repair it, and a married couple is not required to be abstinent. They may do these things, and I’ve known some couples who felt called to have restorative surgery, and are glad they did; but it’s not required.

So, do you think God wants everyone to be heterosexual? If you’re gay, are you required to at least try, in one way or another, to become heterosexual?

I don’t think the Church would ever require someone to be more heterosexual. I don’t think it’s possible; that phrase doesn’t make any sense.

I was all upset about a year ago because I was in love with this guy who wasn’t it love with me. I was talking to a friend about it, and I was talking about how I just needed to get over it and move on. And she said, “You know, there are some things that are not a matter of your will. You don’t have the power to stop feeling this way.” No one has the power to be more heterosexual, per se.

I know there is some debate over whether the Church should use words like “disordered,” because it makes people feel like they are intrinsically second rate. And I know there are some Christians who are not thrilled at the prospect of being celibate for the rest of their lives, but they accept their SSA as part of their identities, maybe like some deaf people refuse to call their lack of hearing a disability. Do you think there’s some comparison there? Is it legitimate to sort of “own” your gayness, even if you’re chaste and celibate, because it makes you who you are?

That’s why this is so tricky to talk about the definition of being gay.

Do I want to be no longer attracted to men? Absolutely. Would I like to be attracted to women? Absolutely. But would I like to lose any of the things closely tied to being attracted to men? It’s anybody’s guess what those things are, exactly. You can’t talk about life like that — what life might have been.

Right, and I know people who are who they are because of something horrible, like the death of a child. They have become strong and close to God because of it, but they can’t quite bring themselves to say they’re glad it happened!

Yeah. What part of who I am is because of the struggle? The ‘person you would have been’ doesn’t exist. I’m extremely glad to be who I am. But would I change the things that made me who I am? Of course. And that doesn’t make sense!

See, that’s the whole reason this “gay thing” is such a big deal — because it brings the paradoxes of human experience right onto the surface and makes them unavoidable. It’s why people can’t stop talking about it. It makes it impossible not to talk about the relationship between sex and procreation, or the difference between love and friendship. It makes these things pressing concerns; it makes them so explicit.

Well, let’s end with a really big question: what does chastity mean to you? Do you see any difference between how you, as a gay man, see it, and how you’ve heard it described by heterosexual people, either sexually active or not? Does it sound like we’re all talking about the same thing?

I don’t think I can answer that. I don’t know what chastity is yet. No one I talk to does, either.

——

[This ends the second half of my interview with Steve Gershom. For the first half, see yesterday's post. Steve has also written a four-part post about orientation change on his blog, SteveGershom.com.]

  • J Jaeger

    “You can’t talk about life like that — what life might have been.” And that’s life for every person, more or less. Some suffer more, some suffer less. Whatever your sufferings and joys, life has to be faced as it is. We may not understand the other person’s sufferings/joys, but we can respect them. And ourselves. Great interview! Dealing with reality is so much better than slapping at “issues.”

  • pschloss

    Not sure if this is happening to others, but this page is giving me an ad at the top for a Miami beach love fest with two women going in for a kiss. Perhaps patheos needs to re-think their ad policy…

    • simchafisher

      Yes, we’ve let the editor know about this particular ad. There’s an algorithm that chooses what it thinks are relevant ads based on keywords; but we can block objectionable ads once we see them and find the source. Thanks.

      • anna lisa

        Please let them know that all of my computers freeze when they are trying to open anything on Patheos. It takes forever to load because of the ads. No other website makes them do that.

        • TheodoreSeeber

          Specifically, zedo.com’s adservers are extremely slow.

  • Joseph Moore

    Great stuff. One thing hinted at here that maybe could use some more expansion:

    When a theologian uses the phrase ‘objectively disordered’ it’s like a car mechanic using the phrase ‘automatic transmission’ – even though the words may mean any number of things in other contexts, the mechanic and the theologian mean only one specific thing by them.

    Put it another way: Was Mother Theresa objectively disordered? Yes. How about Pope JPII? Yep. Ss. Peter, Paul, Joseph, Francis, Therese, Yep. Every person on earth right now? Yessir. The number of people we know of who were not objectively disordered is 4: Jesus and Mary, and Adam and Eve before the fall. All the rest of us chickens? objectively disordered. Our disorder only ceased, if it ever does, with our death and the beatific vision.

    The problem comes when the phrase is heard to say: you’re disordered and I’m not. Nope – we’re all in this together, all in need of salvation. I like Steve’s example of the dude who works out 16 hours a week and sleeps with three women – he is objectively disordered (just like me!).

    • Daniel Lee Fee

      Wow great ‘save’ on the long pass to the far end of the field, so to speak. However, personally in six decades of USA family, church, and community life, I’ve never had any real person who sincerely believed in the Fall and Original Sin … be able to respond to me as anything l other than, less or lesser.

      Just my own skewed sampling, I guess.

      The closest the more empathetic, down to earth believers seem to be able to get is a sort of service-able atmosphere of “we are together” in our inevitable downhill-ness, what I suppose San Francisco psychiatrist Eric Berne might have meant when he wrote about, I’m Not Okay and You’re Not Okay.

      Then the service-ability factors occasionally seem to get extended by a kind of splitting that somehow brackets or sets aside the Not Okay-ness; so that in certain times and places and interactions – general worship, for example – the Not Okay-ness is at least temporarily boxed away so that we can communally focus on God Being Completely Okay.

      Not much of that energizes healthy change for the better, so far, in my skewed sample. It feels and looks like an alarming number of people around me in these years only have more and more grist for the slow mill grind of feeling badly about oneself while hoping greatly that others are better off, as well as ‘better people.’

      I guess this amounts to saying that, so far, it’s been amazingly difficult for me personally to bridge in any real, actual, effective positive manner across the gap between doctrines about how utterly awful people and creation are, and any real, lived ‘experience of grace’; …. let alone to find in doctrine a well spring of ‘grace’ that can be lived for real, and with self with others.

      I’m guessing I may be ‘autistic’ when it comes to certain matters of faith, certain faith communities, and similar phenomena. The Christian suspicion of the body and of human mammalian nature never quite stops being an exquisite alarm system, easily set off in full bell ringing and emails to the police and fire fighters by the slightest breeze that might carry the taint of human mammal pheromones.

      I’ve come to provisionally accept the doctrine / real life split as yet another of the plentiful conundrums that persist … (I think Gershon hints at ‘paradoxes’) … associated with what so many believers appear to espouse as ‘eternal revelation.’ It’s like having somebody say they are handing you a fabulous eternal map of heaven which is necessary beyond all inquiry or questioning, except that the map doesn’t do anything much for living a complicated, change for the better life on earth. As the ex-gay or SOCE practitioners will be quick to tell us: The problem must be in the human receiver, not in the divine sender!

      Just my two cents, so far, from six decades of USA Bible Belt and bicoastal USA living. And I’ve hung out in church circles, a whole lot. Alas. Lord have mercy. drdanfee

  • Daniel Lee Fee

    QUOTE D o I want to be no longer attracted to men? Absolutely. Would I like to
    be attracted to women? Absolutely. But would I like to lose any of the
    things closely tied to being attracted to men? It’s anybody’s guess what
    those things are, exactly. UNQUOTE

    Well this is one of those specific points/places where SG opens a sort of door or at least seems to be pointing at a sort of opening …. only to quickly veer off in another direction completely. The interviewer’s question was something like: Does honesty and integrity include owning your gayness as part of the core of who you know yourself to be?

    GS’s reply took us off, fast, into: You can’t get all wrapped up in what or who you might have been, if only ….

    The other question we passed by is more interesting to me: Would I like to lose the things that are closely tied inside my person/body, to being attracted to men? … since, any number of positive things in me are in truth, tying my personhood and my gayness, together?

    the next near question possibly being something like: Gee, what are the things in my person/body that being attracted to men is closely tied into, or generative of?

    Asking in that direction, I immediately am reminded of the connecting, the vulnerability, the being drawn out of the selfish-er dynamics of oneself (the lone human thus being especially ripe, easy prey for all the pleasure at the expense of others, power over/against others, isolating substitutions of all kinds; which often are tried out, to replace allowing oneself to be drawn into love of another specific person) …., , being powerfully reminded that great beauty still exists in the cosmos of humanity – not just beauty in the abstract but beauty that touches deeply into human innards. Same sex embodied love simply seems at its core (for me personally) to call me to be the very best guy I can possibly be under varying circumstances, including the hard times, in relation to the guy who so powerfully affects me. Why else bother with being a guy attracted to another guy?

    If sexual orientation, all the lived human mammal points along the postulated Kinsey Spectrum from completely heterosexual in sensitivity to the opposite sex (and same sex) to completely homosexual in sensitivity to the same sex (and opposite sex), is only pretty okay at the ‘one’ range of the scale, then we need more than just what we have been told so far in order to know what and how to do with the rest of the continuum. Switching to categories, let alone blessing some categories while dissing others just does not go very far for real, no matter how comprehensive the categories proclaim themselves to be as descriptions of reality in human nature.

    How church life with its existing tools and trends of discernment is ever going to unpack the positive lived dynamics that occur in human personhood, either closely tied to or perhaps springing from same sex attractions (which are, after all, attractions to sharing and giving oneself to another person, just as in a heterosexual sense generally speaking) … is more than I can speculate to say.

    A recurring moment when I read these sorts of orthodoxy is: Well, I don’t think you can get there from here. (Cf. New England farmer giving directions to lost big city tourists joke) drdanfee


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